As members of the Lieb Family Cellars wine club, we get three bottles of wine shipped to us three times a year at a 20% discount...not a bad deal at all considering how great the wine is.
If you've tried some of the more "mainstream" Long Island wines and have found them sweet, flat or just plain terrible, do yourself a favor and find a bottle from Lieb....particularly the Pinot Blanc or Reserve Merlot (though they are all good). You will not regret it.
Another perk we get as wine club members: invitations to several members-only events. Unfortunately, we always seem to miss said events. They seem to always be on holiday weekends when we're out of town (or hosting our own parties) or we already have plans long before we know about the Lieb event.
This was our first Lieb club event...and we are very glad we could finally attend.
After a weekend filled with wedding festivities and lots of food (including a brunch just before heading out to Lieb) we were caught a little off guard when we arrived at the tasting room and were handed an empty glass of wine (our glass for the afternoon) and were told their would be food paired with each wine we tasted. Luckily, we both dug down deep and found just enough real estate in our stomachs for the small nibbles that all paired wonderfully with the wines.
The first course of this flight was assorted Japanese Maki Rolls with Lieb's signature wine, their spectacular 2002 Pinot Blanc Reserve. This clean, crisp and fresh tasting wine is filled with citrus-honey with a refreshing acidity. It was perfect with the sushi...and I have a feeling it would go well with any light appetizer, especially shellfish.
Second, we were treated to a fresh local strawberry (a treat in and of it self) dipped in white chocolate to go with the 2002 Bridge Lane Chardonnay. This is an easy drinking, steel barrel chardonnay that is most everything that California Chardonnay isn't: bright, light and crisp. We've had this one several times before and even our non-wine lover friends enjoy it.
I'd never thought of blending the flavors of chicken and peach into a friend wonton before, but that was exactly what we were given to accompany the 2001 Chardonnay Reserve. Again, this is not your mother's California Chardonnay, though it does spend some time in French oak. Nena, who normally dislikes Chardonnay with any oak even likes this one, probably because it's full of fruit and is rich without being buttery or heavy. The sweetness of the peach/chicken filling was balance well by the almost toasty flavor of the wine. Another great pairing.
Now it was time for the reds, some of my favorite reds on Long Island. First we sampled the 2001 Bridge Lane Merlot with a curry lamb pierogi. Such a flavor-packed combination, curry and lamb, went well with the strong berry flavors of this modestly tannic Merlot.
The last course of the initial flight paired Lieb's 2000 Merlot Reserve with scallion scones smeared with a blue cheese glaze. This wine is probably my single favorite on the island...and it didn't disappoint. It's blended with a little Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon to accentuate the cherry flavors and balance the tannins and oak. One of my all-time favorites...and a great match with the scones.
I would have been happy picking up my wine shipment for the month (a bottle each of the first three wines) and going home...but were in store for much much more.
Mark Lieb, the owner of the winery treated us to a tour of the facility, which isn't open to the general public. Why wouldn't it be open to any guy off the street? Simple: along with vinting their own wine, 32 other wines are created and bottled at this facility...and those 32 like to remain anonymous. I did see a few labels in the barrel room and in the bottling area, but I'm going to preserve the anonymity...
Mark told us that his facility is one of the largest in the country and certainly the largest outside of California, a fact that I would have never guessed. Then again, the wine is so good...I shouldn't have been that amazed that others would come to him to have their wines made.
At then end of the tour, we were given a treat. We got to sample two wines for the first time. The first, a 2003 Merlot was straight out of the barrel. You could tell it was a young wine, it was much more brash and tannic than its 2000 siblings...but the amazing fruitiness still came through (even if it had only been blended once...with at least three more to come according to Mark). What a unique treat...tasting something before it's even close to being ready...and still it was great.
Next, and last in our day, was a sampling of Lieb's recently bottled 2001 Meritage. Only 120 cases were made, and Mark doesn't think it's really ready to be tried...but Gary (the GM of the place) talked him into letting us taste it...and buy it! Even my developing palate could tell that the wine wasn't quite all that it could be, but it was such a powerful, yet balanced red that it didn't matter. I pictured myself around the Xmas holiday (when it will be peaking) with a seared porter house...drinking this wine by the fire with Nena on a cold night. I was hooked...and our bottle is resting comfortably in our wine rack, just waiting for the winter months.
What an experience. Nena and I both think it's great that we share this whole wine hobby...and this was undoubtedly one of our greatest shared wine experiences. Thanks Mark and thanks Gary for a great afternoon of wine (and food).